The Desertification of Main Street: Where Has Everybody Gone?

The move toward online shopping coincides with a decline in the presence and use of physical retail establishments. This is according to a study exploring the changes in shopping habits and environments conducted by Ipsos Global Advisor in 24 countries around the world.

The Desertification of Main Street: Where Has Everybody Gone?

Consumers report seeing fewer traditional “Main Street” businesses while they are increasingly resorting to digital and convenience-focused alternatives. The types of establishments that are most markedly vanishing from local shopping areas are: bookstores (reportedly seen less often by 39% of the more than 19,000 consumers surveyed globally), newsstands (37%) and furniture stores (34%). In contrast, people are reporting seeing more or just as many drugstores and pharmacies (73%), stores or restaurants selling readily-prepared or takeout food (66%), and any type of chain or franchise store (66%).

  • A quarter of global respondents (25%) say they have seen more stores and restaurants selling readily-prepared or takeout food in the last three years. 
    Nearly two in five Colombians (79%) say they have seen more stores or restaurants selling readily prepared or takeout food, narrowly passing China (78%) and Mexico (78%).
  • Notably, the same number (25%) say they have also seen more empty or vacant stores.
    In Japan and Great Britain, 65% say they have seen more empty or vacant stores more often than they did three years ago, closely followed by Spain (62%).

Sparking these changes in local shopping areas, consumers report shopping online more often than they did three years ago.

  • On the whole, consumers in China, Great Britain, and Poland are those most likely to report shopping online more or as often as they did three years ago. Peru, Hungary and Serbia tend to show the lowest proportions of consumers who say so.
  • Only 45% of people report banking in person more or as often as they did three years ago. Nearly three quarters of people from the 24-country study report banking online more or as often as they did three years ago (71%).
  • Topping the list of in-person purchases, 77% report buying food in person more or as often as they did three years ago. This is followed by 71% for shopping at large retail stores and 67% for shopping at small retail stores.

Though shopping environments continue to change, those effects do not impact self-reported personal care and social activities evenly. Many still report going to beauty salons (57%), going to bars (51%), and eating at restaurants (50%) more or as often as they did three years ago. 

  • Globally, a majority of consumers (54%) report buying print newspapers or magazines as often or more often than they did three years ago, even though people report seeing fewer newsstands and bookstores.
  • Serbians (66%) and Swedes (65%) are the most likely to say they buy print newspapers or magazines more or as often as they did three years ago, while those in Spain are the most likely to visit a hair, beauty or nail salon (73%). The most sociable countries, those where consumers report going to a bar, tavern or pub more or as often as three years ago, include Spain and Sweden (68% for both). 
These are the findings of a Global Advisor survey on shopping behaviours. The survey was conducted in 27 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. In total 19,000+ interviews were conducted between September 22 – October 6, 2017 among adults aged 18-64 in the United States and Canada, and adults aged 16-64 in all other countries.